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How to Improve Job Satisfaction

As of 2012, overall job satisfaction is at around 50%.  Averaging across all industries, job levels, and pay rates, only 1/2 of all employees are satisfied with their jobs.  The other 1/2 rate their job satisfaction as neutral, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied.  Mirroring this statistic (not surprisingly), only 50% of employees feel that their jobs are interesting.  Does this describe you, your peers, or your employees?

The good news is that applied organizational research has shown that there are specific steps managers can take to increase employee job satisfaction dramatically.  Research has shown that taking these steps leads to a significant improvement in overall job satisfaction… in other words, these steps are not based on anecdotes or stories but on rigorous studies that measured change in hundreds of organizations.

Organizations that consistently follow these steps find overall employee satisfaction rates of 70% and higher.


Six Steps to Improving Employee Job Satisfaction


1. Determine Current Employee Satisfaction

Conduct an employee satisfaction survey and use the survey results to identify the areas where employees are most and least satisfied (e.g., they may be highly satisfied with communication from senior leadership but very dissatisfied with inter-group collaboration).  It is important to use a survey developed by experts to ensure that the results are reliable (i.e., a validated survey w/ multiple dimensions which are measured by relevant questions and free from biases like leading questions).  During and after the survey process, be sure to:

  • Protect the anonymity of employees who participate.  When surveys track personal information, employees tend to answer much more positively than they would if it was anonymous.  Anonymous surveys paint a more realistic picture of what’s going on in the organization. 
  • Commit to taking action on survey results.  Even if it involves only a slight change, it is extremely important to (a) communicate survey results to leaders and employees, (b) follow up the survey with action, and (c) let employees know that you took action.  This is important because lack of survey follow-up sends the message that employee thoughts, feelings, or ideas are not valued.  Action can include any changes large or small that are based on the survey results.  For example, if “feedback from my supervisor” was identified as a problem area, the action could include a 2-hour training workshop for supervisors on “identifying and delivering effective performance feedback” which could be taught by HR or an external consultant (we provide workshops like this multiple times per year).  

Additional Resources:

2.  Address Concerns about Job Security

Anytime you or your organization organization makes changes (large and small) or engages in a formal survey process, it is important that you let employees know that what you are doing to help the business succeed.  This message should be delivered clearly and consistently to employees.  When job security concerns are not addressed, an organization runs the risk that the communications void will be filled by rumors, concerns, or fears.  This could result in decreased satisfaction and increased resistance.  

Additional Resources:

  • Guidelines for Email Communication – It is important to use more than one form of communication when delivering important messages, and email is the most common method used.  However, emails are often poorly constructed, vague, and potentially frustrating.  This article provides an excellent guide for improving email communications.

3.  Provide Developmental Opportunities

Believe it or not, the #1 contributor to voluntary turnover is lack of developmental opportunities (Kenexa, 2011).   Personal and professional development is a crucial component for job satisfaction and motivation.  To increase job satisfaction, make sure that each employee has a training and development plan that is updated on an annual basis.  Also, recognize that development can come in many forms:

  1. On-the-job (OTJ) learning is the most effective way for employees and leaders to develop their skills and competence, particularly when it is supports  the organization and established as a formal process.  OTJ development often includes the use of challenging stretch assignments that places employees at the edge of their comfort zone where they will have to leverage their strengths or even develop new ones.
  2.  Mentoring is also an effective way for employees to not only become socialized in the organization but also to gain the kind of organizational knowledge that only a more senior and established employee can provide.  Mentoring provides three major functions for proteges:  social support, development, and role modeling (Allen, Eby, Poteet, & Lentz, 2004).

Additional Resources:

  • Sample Stretch Assignments – This is a list of possible stretch assignments targeted at developing strategic, interpersonal, and technical competencies.
  • Professional Development for your Employees – This article provides an clear and applicable overview of  employee development.  It describes OTJ development, how to support OTJ development in your organization, and shares research on the positive organizational outcomes of development.
  • Understanding Employee Development as a Process of Change – This article goes a bit deeper, describing how employee and leadership development is actually a process of behavioral change.  Using the five stages of change as a framework, it sheds light on the change process and describes how to support employees and leaders at every stage.
  • Formal Mentoring Programs – This article defines and describes formal mentoring and offers specific, research-based strategies for building and supporting formal mentoring programs.

4.  Provide Opportunities for Employee Involvement

Use employee empowerment and involvement to solicit employee ideas and to engage employees.  It is important to consider the degree of employee involvement in all of the suggestions provided here.  While some areas such as strategic planning may not require employee involvement  to be effective (particularly in larger organizations), in other areas it lends a degree of credibility and can increase buy-in and job satisfaction.  There are many ways to go about increasing employee involvement and empowerment:

  • Formal processes such as Lean or Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) have employee involvement at their core.  They involve the use of trained and empowered teams of employees to identify, evaluate, and improve various work processes with the aims of reducing waste and increasing productivity.  Deciding whether or not to adopt Lean or CPI is a big decision and requires top-level support and extensive work.
  • Problem-solving teams.  We have also seen organizations adopt and implement aspects of Lean/CPI with success; such as the use of problem-solving teams.  These teams are composed of 5-10 employees (often cross-functional), meet for a few hours per week, and are led by a trained facilitator who has knowledge in Lean/CPI tools.  During their meetings, they use formal processes to identify specific business processes or practices, map them out, identify/design improvements, provide recommendations to leaders, and implement improvements.

Additional Resources:

  • Overview of Employee Involvement – This article defines involvement, the outcomes of employee involvement, and easy applications for increasing involvement.
  • How Leaders can Enhance Employee Involvement – This is an informative article that provides specific ways in which leaders can encourage employee involvement.
  • Lean Facilitators – This article describes the role of Lean facilitator (an employee trained in Lean/CPI processes and carries out process improvement activities), outlining what they need to know, what they actually do, and how they can be trained.

5.  Ongoing Feedback and Recognition

Another key to increasing job satisfaction is by providing employees with ongoing feedback and recognition.  Here are some best practices that are important in making sure that feedback and recognition leads to increased satisfaction:

  • Developmental feedback and recognition are both important – developmental feedback helps employees make corrections to their behavior and recognition or positive feedback provides recognition and supports positive affect. 
  • Feedback should be delivered continuously as you observe employee behaviors, rather than during those feared yearly performance reviews.  
  • Feedback should always be straight and to-the-point.  For example, when giving negative feedback, be sure to avoid the feedback sandwich (i.e., positive–negative–positive) at all costs – it is confusing to the employee and does not communicate your intended message.  

Additional Resources:

  • Effective Feedback – This article describes the conditions that, when present, increase the likelihood that feedback will actually lead to improved performance.

 6.  Regular All-Hands Meetings to Keep Employees Informed

Finally, hold regular (quarterly or biannual) all-hands meetings keep employees informed.  Employee satisfaction is positively affected when organizations provide clear communication regarding organizational change, direction, and strategy to employees.  All-hands meetings  provide a great forum for top-down communications, and also provide other distinct advantages:  

  • Provides a space for employees from different functional departments or teams to interact, which may lead to increased knowledge and information sharing and cross-functional networking. 
  • Ensures that high-level messages are heard in the same way by all employees.
  • It also provides the structure for leaders to gauge reactions and listen to employee ideas.


Industry Differences

Curious about industry differences in job satisfaction?  According to the most recent nation-wide employee survey, the following industries have the least satisfied employees:

  • Pharmaceuticals (lowest satisfaction overall)
  • Retail and Wholesale
  • Education, Government, & Non-Profit
Where are the most satisfied employees?  According to the same survey, the following industries have the most satisfied employees:
  • Aerospace and Defense (go Boeing)
  • Transportation
  • Software and Networking
We hope that this blog has provided you with some ideas that you can take back to your own organization to drive positive change.


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